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When Categories Constrain Care: Investigating Social Categories in Health Norms through Disability History 1909-1958

An image from a Trade Union Booklet, South Wales Miners LibraryLed by Dr Coreen McGuire and funded by a Wellcome Trust University Award, this historical research project explores how data has been used to obscure health inequalities related to society and the environment. The project aims to show that that the data points used to establish ‘normal’ health were validated in early twentieth-century Britain in two main ways. First, through classical genetic statistical calculations used in the Eugenics Laboratory to establish inherited disability and second, through the moderation of compensation systems for acquired disablement. Both systems organized data to differentiate biological from cultural predictors of health. This sorting process was used to construct a paradigm of individual health that depended on a concomitant reconceptualization of disability.

The project is comprised of two strands: one focused on disability in the context of eugenics and the other focused on contested compensation for disablement occurred through coalmining.

Disability historians have a particular responsibility to apply their historical research to the present and investigate its relevance to ongoing lived experiences. This project aims to look backwards and forwards. It is ideally situated between Durham’s Department of History and the Institute of Medical Humanities to develop health policy implications and provide crucial impetus and evidence to make broader structural changes. By working closely with The Auckland Project researchers and residents investigating the ongoing impact of mass community relocation in the 1950s as part of County Durham’s infamous ‘category D’ initiative, this project aims to co-produce new research on how historical processes (and our understandings of those processes) continue to impact on health inequalities today.

The project will run between 2023 and 2028.

Image: Trade Union Booklet, South Wales Miners Library.

Find out more about When Categories Constrain Care.